“How different the level of life and horizon of such souls from those in many places in the so-called civilized world in which people have degraded themselves until life has no interest in values that cannot be expressed in gold or pelf, which they would obtain even though the life of the person being cheated or robbed would thereby be crippled or blotted out.
One immediately wonders if there is not something in the life-giving vitamins and minerals in the food that builds not only great physical structures within which their souls reside, but builds minds and hearts capable of a higher type of manhood in which the material values of life are made secondary to individual character.” (Price, 26).
I recently endeavored to read an epic book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, by Weston A. Price, DDS (1870-1948). Dr. Weston A. Price was a dentist who dedicated his life to the scientific and anthropological study of nutrition and its effects on dental health; specifically the incidence of dental cavities, the breadth of the dental arch, and the crowding of teeth. Poignant and thought-provoking, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration details the basic principles of indigenous diets, as they were originally composed before the advent of what Dr. Price called “the displacing foods of modern commerce”. What I learned from this book was strikingly self-evident – it revealed wisdom that I imagine is already contained within all of us, yet begs the illumination that has historically been imparted between generation upon generation of our ancestors.
At times, the book is beautiful; regaling the reader with imagery from Weston Price’s inspired travels to remote parts of the world, where he compulsively sought to document the dietary habits of the last remaining isolated cultures on earth; from the Eskimos to the Maori of New Zealand, to the Gaels of the outer Hebrides of Scotland, among many others. Using a number of predetermined metrics, Dr. Price compared the dental health of isolated groups to that of their nearby, modernized counterparts. What he discovered was clear-cut evidence that modern foods, such as white flour, jams, sugar, canned vegetables, condensed milk, and vegetable oils, when introduced into a culture’s diet, were detrimental not only to the dental health of the people, but also to their physical, mental and societal well-being. Accompanying photographs record the enchanting faces and hearty physiques of persons with bright, even, decay-free smiles, maintained without the use of a toothbrush. In contrast, the images of modernized groups, even where modern dental and medical services were available, suggest defeated, suffering individuals with narrowed faces and hips, facial deformities, crowded decaying teeth, and/or the lesions that are characteristic of tuberculosis.
Many of the foods consumed by these thriving cultures turn the USDA’s recommendations upside-down. Although the diets varied considerably, all contained animal foods ~ with some cultures consuming primarily animal foods ~ either wild or domesticated, raw or cooked, from land or sea. Weston Price demonstrated, in the field and in the lab, that the high fat content of indigenous diets, which was obtained from foods such as fish oil, liver, eggs, animal fats, and unpasteurized butter, acted as a catalyst for the absorption of other nutrients, and as such rendered fats vital to human health. Fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes were sometimes eaten, although in some cultures none were consumed at all. The most overt unifying factor, given the wide variety of foods that were consumed, was the exclusive use of fresh or traditionally preserved, whole foods. Eating indigenous foods, or returning to an indigenous diet, in essence provided complete or near-complete immunity to dental cavities, in addition to other chronic and acute conditions.
From a Taoist perspective, I was intrigued to find the book proposing that food adapts to fit human nutritional requirements. Vegetation becomes more mineral rich or proteinaceous or fattening, depending on the prevailing environmental conditions, in order to better nourish the land’s inhabitants. Indigenous wisdom grasps the concept that the nutritional value of food can be modified by harnessing weather or soil conditions and the changing of the seasons. In this scenario, the human being becomes an integral part of the ecology. How unfortunate that we are no longer able to abide by nature in this harmonious way.
If you ask us here at Dane County Family Acupuncture, you might find that we have been tending to a batch of sauerkraut or kombucha at home, or making our own cheese from our raw dairy shares, or even tossing back raw eggs, rocky-style, for breakfast. We prefer our food to be organic, locally sourced, and in its least adulterated form. Being a traditional foodie myself, I am fascinated by the anthropology of nutrition, and Nutrition and Physical Degeneration certainly inspires one to imagine the spectacular, untapped capacity of the human body. However, perhaps a greater portion of the book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” is devoted to Dr. Price’s decades of groundbreaking laboratory research and clinical experience. Despite the heavy emphasis on science, Dr. Price, and his epic book, naturally, have critics. In his defense, Weston Price does not ever specifically recommend that anyone adopt, wholesale, the diet of any of the groups that were studied. Nevertheless, we should take heed whenever attempting to incorporate the wisdom of old into our modern healthcare paradigm, since adjustments will undoubtedly need to be made.
Dr. Price’s life’s work has been preserved and disseminated by the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF). The Madison Chapter of the WAPF is a lovely support group that meets once per month at the Monona Community Center. They welcome new members, free of charge. If you’re interested, I encourage you to check it out!
- Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Lemon Grove: Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, 2011. Print.